BALLARAT, our Western Bulldogs are challenging what has become the norm in AFL and sparking important cultural discussions we need in society.
Good leaders are clear in what they stand for, on and off the field. They understand the ripple effects their decisions can make and are prepared to make a call that may not be popular but one they feel is right.
The Bulldogs are the only team in the AFL without evident sponsorship links to the lucrative alcohol industry, a new report this week reveals. This comes weeks after Bulldogs captain Easton Wood reiterated his stance, from Ballarat, for the need to cut sports betting advertising from the game.
Neither are easy calls to make, particularly in such a competitive environment for corporate dollars at a club and league level. But they are important calls.
Whether you agree or not with the Bulldogs' stance, they are creating dialogue to get us all thinking about what standards we accept in our sports - because sport is a microcosm of our wider society.
The standards we accept from our role models speaks volumes.
AFL premiership coach and player Michael Malthouse, a Wendouree export, points the finger at athletes, making reference to alcohol-fueled off-field incidents in the football codes.
Malthouse said plenty of footballers have told him they do not want to be a role model. But the simple fact is that our footballers, all our footballers, are role models.
Unfortunately, to some players who might think that they can get through life as a superhero and not be looked at, I've got one message for you, kids will emulate your style and what you are.Michael Malthouse in The Age this week
This is why we cannot let Richmond star Dustin Martin's on-field gestures the past week just flip off.
This is why Rugby Australia has made such a strong move on Israel Folau's views voiced on social media, despite repercussions to the Wallabies' upcoming world cup campaign.
Gambling and alcohol advertising in our game might seem far more complex but when it comes to standards we set, it should be clear.
Easton Wood felt as a high-profile player, who benefits from sponsorship dollars, the source of such money in the game did not sit well with him. He knows children and teenagers will be watching in a period of their life when they are trying to make sense of their world.
This is not just about high-profile players and clubs on a national level.
These are issues every grassroots club must make every season, particularly with junior players in their ranks.
Former St Kilda AFL president Rod Butterss told The Courier when it comes to sponsorship deals, it could be tough calls for clubs and players.
Butterss said this is why there needed to be stronger industry leadership on what is a big health and social issue - he has been open about his own struggles with alcohol and drugs in the game.
Carlton and United Breweries Alcohol corporate affairs boss says alcohol companies freely acknowledge serious problems associated with harmful consumption and anti-alcohol campaigners should acknowledge improvements Australians have made in their relationship with alcohol. In a letter to The Courier's editor this week, Julian Sheezel points to government data on a decline in youth drinking and greater choice for consumers in alcohol strength.
Brewers Association chief Brett Heffernan told The Age "most people instinctively know the idea that someone seeing an ad or a logo on a pair of shorts will be compelled to drink, is patently absurd". Heffernan also points to data showing more than 90 per cent of AFL and NRL audiences were adult.
None of this means the association between Australian drinking culture or gambling with sport is far from feeling normalised:
- live crosses for sports odds often have the same sense of normality as a weather report
- commercial television has fun football panel shows of hosts enjoying a beer with guests
- beer and champagne showers are a key feature of triumph in many sporting levels and codes.
Foundation of Alcohol Research and Education's findings at the least make us think. In an era when people are demanding to know more about origins and representations of all products they consume, sport should be no different.
This is where sporting role models can make the biggest impact of all.
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